Back in 2008 Mamma Mia caused a word of mouth tidal wave that was met with either high pitched squeals or “oh good god!”. I think the more cynical of the film felt this way because it was going to butcher the songs of ABBA and it did to some degree, however, none of that mattered because watching it, you find yourself lured into the awfulness and you start to feel all bouncy inside. what happens on the screen is unimportant because goddamn I can’t get Dancing Queen out of my head. Ten years on and we get Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Part of me was expecting the same cycle to repeat itself as it did a decade ago, but this time the viewing experience was different. I didn’t get drawn into the film, I choose to get drawn into the film because Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is a colossal improvement.
First of all, how can you be a critic watching this film? You’re torn apart by your own moral dilemma of wanting to be professional and wanting to dance in the aisle, with the key contributor being that the ABBA songs work much better with the images. The first film threw in ABBA songs to match the scene; however, they were done it such a way that it made it feel cheap and done because there hasn’t been a musical number in a while. This time they are done in a much more professional manner, matching with the character emotions helping us to understand the characters more and also making a scene more tragic or upbeat.
When songs like Waterloo and Dancing Queen are played, the choreography in the dance adds to the upbeat, feel-good tempo the film gives off. The dancing in the film is what a pendulum to a hypnotist is, the elaboration of the sequence gave me a carefree attitude, if I were more extroverted, I’d have jazz hands by now.
Enough of the stuck in your head songs for now. Looking beyond that, what about the story? thankfully it doesn’t get overshadowed by the presence of ABBA, even the more critical of Mamma Mia films will have to admit that the story is honestly touching. This is a story about reconnecting with loved and showing the strong bond between mothers and daughters. Donna is a very impactful, positive character, the film was clear to show how much of a difference she makes in peoples and how she is remembered fondly. I feel Ol Parker never let the popularity of ABBA get in the way of telling a touching story that can connect with audiences.
Meryl Streep is out and now Lily James is stepping in as a younger Donna on her travels. Although the film has a very likeable cast the first film was criticized for not having actors known for their singing or dancing talents, Lily James has both. Her performance is bouncy and full of positive energy she exuberates the feel-good attitude the film is giving off. Remember the classic scene in Sleeping Beauty where she sings in the woods? That is a perfect description of what Lily James’ performance feels like.
As musicals go, it does follow similar filmmaking techniques, but that doesn’t mean it still impressive. Take the films editing, for example, seems like just a drop in the ocean of an important aspect of the film, but there is a lot more cleverness going on that you might think. The travelling between one location to another is seamlessly done (you can see this for yourself during the ‘One of Us’ rendition) so the film’s narrative is flowing as calmly as the Greek island seas.
As much I can say that a lot has evolved in ten years, some of the problems from the first Mamma Mia still remain. Primarily half the cast have little to no singing talent. What is more astounding however is even the most famous face in the film Cher isn’t worth getting too exciting. Yes, her voice is like no other, but this is someone who was clearly brought in to do just that. You would imagine an icon like Cher would steal the show, however, I can’t be entirely confident that she did. But hey, at least she has a presence and stellar voice.
The flashbacks to young Donna feel unprepared, at any moment we could be taken out of the present day and into the past. I would have loved any hinting or indications to when we would move into these flashbacks. It was like hitting a speedbump when you’re just getting into your rhythm, you have to slow down on the approach which corrupts the tempo ever so slightly.
All in all, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is the perfect surprise film. I never thought I would enjoy this film, I was dreading it before I even got a ticket. I am however always open-armed about the unexpected in cinema which is why I urge even the most cynical of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again to see it. Experience the open positivity of the film, the feeling when your body starts to turn into its own jukebox, the joy of seeing experience talent on screen and maybe, just maybe, this film may make you a dancing queen yet.